By Bruce Beehler
May 25, 2015 Blog #18 of my North with the Spring journey:
As I travel past St. Louis, I am now in the northern half of my journey. I know this because I have left behind the Carolina Chickadee for the Black-capped Chickadee, and I have lost the Fish Crow and Black Vulture. Instead, while birding the hayfields of northern Illinois, I now hear the exciting bubbling song of the Bobolink. Nesting Bobolinks tell me I am in the North! So long, cypress and cherrybark oak!
Testing a Theory
For much of the drive up, I followed the Illinois River valley, which is broad and agricultural but hemmed in by handsome wooded bluffs. Black locusts bloomed in profusion. Late in the morning, I caught sight of a beautiful big male coyote standing in the stubble of a corn field.
I decided to camp two nights at Argyle Lake State Park, a small park situated some 30 miles east of the Mississippi. I wanted to see if a small and isolated woodland park in open farmland would produce a greater concentration of migrant songbirds on passage north.
Argyle is a hilly patch of oak woods surrounding a small, dammed lake. I had two good mornings for birding to test my theory: Lots of migrant Tennessee Warblers, a Canada Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanagers, and Swainson’s Thrushes. Also there were resident breeders—singing Kentucky Warblers and Ovenbirds. Still, I was hardly overwhelmed by the numbers of migrants in the woods. So much for my theory!
Not far from Argyle Lake is a restored patch of prairie at Spring Lake Park. I visited early in hopes of Henslow’s Sparrows and Upland Sandpipers. Instead, I saw Bobolinks, Dickcissels, and too many Red-winged Blackbirds to count. From here, I made tracks for my last stop in Illinois: Mississippi Palisades State Park.
Last Look at Summer Tanagers
Mississippi Palisades resembles a northern version of Missouri’s Pere Marquette State Park, featuring bluffs with scenic views of the great river. Hooded Warblers were on territory in the upland woods, and migrant Tennessee Warblers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were noisy in the canopy.
About seven miles up the road was the Lost Mound Unit of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. The area supports extensive prairie openings—all across a former U.S. Army Depot. From a river overlook set on a 70-foot natural sand dune, I watched a small group of White Pelicans and several adult Bald Eagles. This is the last place I will see Summer Tanagers, who don’t make it as far north as my next stop in Wisconsin.
Bruce Beehler is an ornithologist, conservationist, and naturalist. He is currently a Research Associate in the Division of Birds at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, and is focused on research and writing about nature and natural history. Bruce has published ten books and authored dozens of technical and popular articles about nature. In 2007, Beehler was featured in a “60 Minutes” piece highlighting an expedition he led to the Foja Mountains in the interior of New Guinea in which scores of new species were discovered.